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Middle east

Saleh deputy calls for ceasefire in Sanaa

Video by Jade BARKER

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-09-20

Yemen's vice-president called for a ceasefire on Tuesday as the death toll from three days of street battles between security forces and protesters calling for the removal of President Ali Abdullah Saleh rose to more than 60.

AFP - Gunfire and shelling rocked Sanaa for the third straight day on Tuesday, killing seven people, as the casualty toll from the worst outbreak of violence in months spiralled to 60 dead and hundreds wounded.

Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi called for a ceasefire, while EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton urged an end to the violence and pressed embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh to accept a transfer of power.

And the international Red Cross said some Red Crescent teams had been threatened and assaulted in Yemen and that violent confrontations were reportedly taking place in one of Sanaa's main hospitals.

Fighting between dissident troops and those loyal to Saleh broke out at dawn after a brief lull overnight and raged through the day, leaving seven people dead, before receding in the evening, medics and witnesses said.

"Four civilians and three soldiers from the First Armoured Brigade were killed," a medical official said, referring to the dissident troops loyal to General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar.

Republican Guard troops, commanded by Saleh's son, Ahmed, shelled posts held by Ahmar's troops around Change Square, epicentre of the anti-regime protests that have shaken Yemen for months, witnesses said.

Change Square was targeted by mortar rounds and anti-aircraft fire, with one witness describing it as the "heaviest shelling" yet and saying it "lit the sky over the square."

A shell also hit Al-Iman University near the square killing one and wounding three, said university spokesman Ayed al-Zindani.

Mortar rounds struck near the field hospital set up at Change Square and six people were wounded, said activist Walid al-Amari.

Snipers and security forces also opened fire on demonstrators who tried to march towards the Kentaky crossroad, where the office of Ahmed Saleh is located.

Medics at the Change Square field hospital reported dozens were wounded in the shooting.

Protest organisers told AFP the numbers of demonstrators camped in an area stretching about three kilometres (two miles) from Change Square to Al-Zubair Road had swelled to nearly 150,000.

Referring to Vice President Hadi, a defence ministry source said he had given "strict orders for a rapid ceasefire in the capital and that government forces were obeying."

An opposition source said Ahmar's troops had been observing a ceasefire since noon to "foil the plans of the band that wants a military escalation."

Meanwhile Valerie Petitpierre, deputy head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in Yemen, spoke of "receiving very worrying reports of armed confrontations taking place in Al-Gomhori Hospital and placing many innocent lives at risk.

In addition, "over the past three days, Yemen Red Crescent Society emergency response teams have been threatened and assaulted," said Petitpierre.

Ashton's spokesman said in Brussels that she "deplores the many deaths and injuries following the demonstrations in Sanaa on 18-19 September," adding that perpetrators of violence should be held accountable.

"In this volatile situation, it is crucial to exercise restraint, avoid provocative action, refrain from further violence and take immediate steps to de-escalate the situation," the statement said.

"The EU reiterates the need to sign and implement the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative and stands ready to extend support to Yemeni stakeholders, the GCC and our international partners."

Saleh, who has ruled Yemen since 1978, has been recovering in Saudi Arabia after a June 3 explosion at his presidential compound, but has so far refused to transfer power to his deputy or to sign the so-called Gulf Initiative.

The GCC plan, proposed last spring, calls on Saleh to step down as president and hand over all constitutional authorities to his deputy. In return, Saleh and his family would be granted immunity from prosecution.

However, young protesters reject the plan and call for the immediate ouster of Saleh and all members of his regime and for bringing him to justice.

The latest violence was sparked on Sunday when demonstrators, vowing to escalate their protests, marched southwards along Al-Zubair Road towards Kentaky crossroad in central Sanaa.

They were met by security forces and armed civilians who opened fire on them, leaving 26 dead, medics said.

Dissident troops intervened in defence of the protesters, who managed to drive out Saleh's loyalists and security forces before setting up their own tents along the road.

On Monday, 27 people were killed in similar clashes, medics and protest organisers said.

Five civilians were also killed in the city of Taez south of Sanaa while six others were wounded in random shelling and gunfire by Saleh's forces, according to medics and residents there.

The bloodletting coincides with the arrival in Sanaa of UN envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar and GCC chief Abdulatif al-Zayani for what a diplomat said was the signing of a UN roadmap for the transfer of power.

The opposition has declined to meet any of the officials. "The opposition cannot receive them while blood is flowing in Sanaa," said a leading activist.

But the deputy leader of the ruling General People's Congress, Sultan al-Barakani accused the opposition of having "hindered" mediation efforts and said protesters had to return to their "previous positions" in Change Square.

 

Date created : 2011-09-20

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